Category Archives: Mindfulness

Lost In The Moment With Coffee And a Spider

Like a little girl who was promised a pony on Christmas morning, I was seriously looking forward to an event at work in which Byron Katie was coming to talk (if you haven’t hear of her, you have to Google her. She’s AMAAAAHZING!!). Byron Katie is a world-renown speaker and author who teaches “The Work”, a method of self-inquiry that can end emotional suffering. I can’t speak highly enough about the tremendous power her technique has and how much it has contributed to my own healing.

I’m getting sidetracked…

Anyway, I was really looking forward to her coming to Stanford. Her tickets are normally $1,000 but I got to go for free, so there was no way I was going to miss this event! I went an hour early, grabbed a coffee and got the second to front row. Not bad! I was super excited, heart racing with so much anticipation to finally meet and see her!

The host introduced her, and in all her glory she walks on the stage, sits down, and I feel this complete sense of wonder and peace come over me.

Suddenly, I noticed a small spider crawling in a poofy-haired older women sitting in front of me. The spider was carefully crafting its web. I felt a moral obligation to inform her of the spider! After all, I would want someone to tell me if I had a spider in my hair. Then doubt came over me; I didn’t want to interrupt Byron Katie, and I certainly didn’t want to draw attention to myself or to this poofy-haired woman. I wondered how I could relay the message to this poofy-haired woman. A letter? A whisper? No… if I did that she might freak out, jump up and scream. What if I took my pencil and tried to take the spider from her hair? No… that would definitely cause a distraction. Bryon Katie might even think I’m raising my hand trying to speak…

The web took form. The spider was weaving in and out of this poofy-haired woman’s hair. I was torn. Oh, if only she knew… Oh, how can I tell her of this creature!? I decided that I would wait until after the presentation to tell her. I supposed that if the spider wasn’t even noticed by her, maybe it’s not that big of a deal after all.

My bladder was filling with the coffee I had chugged earlier. My pants began to feel tight. I started feeling uncomfortable. I was not about to miss this event I had long been awaiting! I refused to excuse myself. Slowly, I noticed that between the spider and the coffee I was having a hard time understanding the discussion.

The presentation ended. In fear of making a mess, I ran out of the building as if it was on fire, to the ladies room. As I walked out of the restroom it had occurred to me that I forgot to tell the lady about the spider.

It also occurred to me that I was so obsessed about the spider and my filling bladder that I completely missed out on really hearing that presentation…

 

Byron Katie’s website is here:

http://thework.com/en

All The Work is free and easily accessible. It’s wonderful! Try it!

 

Who am I?

It’s going on 2 months since our separation. There were times he would come visit the baby hungover. Sometimes he would come home in the middle of the night drunk, and then he would disappear again. Who was he with? What was he doing? How could he live like this? Doesn’t he know it’s a horrible example for the kids and most certainly hurtful to me…?

I can’t sleep at night because I keep thinking of how my husband isn’t the kind of husband, person, boss, worker, family member, father, and friend I think he should be. The thought bothers me so much I spend night after night ruminating on all the times he doesn’t do what he is supposed to do and all the times he makes bad choices or hurts me.

My original obsessive thoughts were, “What kind of father does he want to be? What kind of husband does he want to be? Is he happy living this way?” And then it hit me… Maybe he hasn’t given any thought to that. Maybe he IS happy living that way. Maybe it was me who was confused…

After several weeks of no sleep and reaching the point of physical and emotional burnout, it was only then that I finally realized something very painful… I was a hypocrite. I wasn’t even being the woman I thought I should be, the wife I should be, the mother I should be… Of course I could justify myself by saying, “well, his actions are horrible compared to mine…” But so what? Even if that were the case, that doesn’t change anything. It can’t change him and it hasn’t gotten me any closer to feeling better, happier, more confident, or more loved.

So I asked myself: What kind of mother do I want to be? What kind of friend do I want to be? What kind of wife do I want to be? What kind of employee do I want to be?  I realized I don’t have the energy to be the person I want to be when I spend all my energy thinking about how he isn’t being who he should be and do what he should do, and when I ruminate on all the things he did that he shouldn’t have done, all my energy gets sucked away from me so forcefully and quickly that I can’t even begin to consider where to start on my own stuff.

Every single moment of every single day, I have the opportunity to be the exact person I want to be in that moment. When I am driving, I am Driver. When I am cooking dinner, I am Cooker. When I am walking my dogs, I am Dog Walker. When I am with my children, I am Mommy. When I am at work, I am Worker. If I can focus on being the best version of me in that moment I am whatever role I am, I will have fulfilled my purpose in that moment. I will have been the best and perfect person I can be. When my energy is spent on that moment, I have no energy for anything else, and my energy and time will have been spent well. It will have been a very successful day.

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Sometimes we are in situations in which we cannot easily identify “who we are” in that moment. For example, last night  my husband (although we are still separate) took us to a friend’s barbecue. At first it was hard to enjoy myself as I didn’t know anyone and couldn’t understand anything (everyone spoke Spanish). My mind started going to a negative place, and I almost found myself criticizing my husband for bringing us there and leaving us to fend for ourselves… To make matters worse, the host of the party was one of my husband’s “friends” that has on several occasions lied to me about my husband and her “dealings.” I was starting to feel a strong sensation of anger coming on and began contemplating all the things I wanted to tell her to realize how wrong she was to lie to me. The night could have been a complete disaster! Trying to stay focused on “who I am”, I didn’t know if I should be “Mommy” and focus on the children (at the risk of isolating myself from the group), or “Wife” and pretend that my marriage was wonderful when it obviously was not… All I knew was that I didn’t want to be “resentful, angry, and revenge-seeking.” And then I realized who I was: I was Guest! It was easy then to be a great guest! I made sure I enjoyed myself in whatever way I felt I needed to. I was the guest, and I did a great job of being a guest. And then, as a guest, I left when I was done being a guest. As I was playing the role of Guest, I was also able to successfully pull off being Mommy and Wife flawlessly and without effort.  It was simple. In the end, I was able to be exactly who I wanted to be, how I wanted to be, and the night ended well. No regrets.

In each moment, in the role I am playing I can be fully present and engaged, and it is by playing my role fully that I am able to be in that moment and give all of myself in that moment. It is then, and only then, that I am able to be the best I can be.

Not perfect, but perfectly me.

I’d like to think I know what people should be doing and how they should be behaving, but when it doesn’t happen the result is complete sadness and disappointment. Interestingly, the only one walking away butt-hurt is myself. But when I think of who I want to be and what I should be doing, every moment is an empowering choice to be exactly who I want to be and live according to how I believe I should live. The ironic thing is that when I am living the way I think I should be, and doing what I think I should, nothing else seems to matter.

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Holding on to Painful Memories: A protective mechanism, or something else?

As I was doing dishes, ruminating on the acting out my husband was doing, a thought came to mind: Maybe me ruminating on past trauma and painful memories is a natural coping mechanism- an attempt to protect myself. Like cavemen who had to remember which berry was poisonous or where the dangerous animals where, they had to rely on memory, so they held up those memories in order to protect themselves from future harm.
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Maybe that’s me, just enacting my primal instincts to protect myself from future emotional pain and betrayal. This might have been important 300 thousand years ago, but does it truly protect me or serve me well now?
The one thing I failed to realize is that it doesn’t prevent the event from happening. In fact, no amount of spying, snooping, nagging, threatening, or manipulating kept it from happening. He still acted out. He still lied. He still hurt me. My ruminating just kept me in a state of panic, anxiety, worry, and confusion.
Maybe a part of me felt spent so much time thinking about it because it justified that he was wrong and I was right; that he was the evil villain and I was the innocent victim. I constantly worried and ruminated on the acting out because if I didn’t worry I might trust again. I might get lazy or absent-minded and forget about the danger and fall for future betrayal.
It was a tactic that didn’t work because it kept my mind off the here-and-now (what was really sitting in front of me) and paralyzed me in What-If Land.

 

 

Taking Things Personally When It’s Personal – How Relationships Suffer Through Differences in Reality

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One of the greatest sources of suffering in a relationship is our refusal to accept our differences. I’d be willing to bet the fastest way to end any relationship is to determine in our mind that our reality is either better or correct compared to another. The fact is, sometimes people do things that hurt us. Sometimes it is physical, and sometimes it is emotional. While the pain we may have experienced is real, however, rather than focus on what harm the other has caused us, I believe what is really important is the intention behind it.

How do we know the intention was to cause some kind of pain? Maybe they did it to make themselves feel better, bigger, stronger, more powerful, less scared, more secure, smarter, or maybe it was even done for something more complicated, like addiction or some other mental health issue. Maybe it was an accident. Who knows?

Where we often get stuck is when we decide that we know what their real intentions were, but until we develop some serious ESP powers, there is no human alive that can know what another person’s true intentions are. That is why we have to communicate in order to find out. That means having an open mind and calming down just enough to get ego and emotions out of the way. Communication doesn’t happen- in fact it CAN’T happen- when either of the parties is either flaming mad or already decided that he/she is right and the other is wrong. Maybe they are, but maybe they aren’t. That’s what this communication thing is for. The goal isn’t to determine who is right and who is wrong, but respecting how both are right in their own way, and how to move forward with the differences.

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Ironically, however, it’s important to acknowledge that whether you know it or not, you have hurt people in some way as well, and for as long as you may live, you will continue to hurt people even if you don’t mean to. That is the nature of our existence as humans. We may not have done it on purpose but conflict is the natural result of living in a world with someone other than ourselves, and in a world of so much diversity. You simply cannot exist without having some kind of impact (good or bad) on another living being, and the conflict (or love) that arises out of it is simply two different things bumping into one another. The result is either an attraction or avoidance.

Unfortunately, on Earth, difference is unavoidable, and it is good! Just like light and darkness, warmth and cold, polarities all serve a very important purpose in the world. Remember though: while we may have a number of differences, we also share a number of similarities (good and bad).

In our relations with other living beings we also have a polarity of intentions. Either we have good/loving/caring intentions or bad/hateful/harming intentions (and sometimes no intentions at all). I would like to believe I always have good intentions, but the truth is sometimes I don’t, and I doubt I’m the only one.

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Understanding intentions can be really hard. Sometimes our emotions or ego can scream so loudly that we can’t hear what’s truly going on behind our actions. But if we can get ourselves back to that calm state of mind and identify what our intentions are, we can make better decisions on how to move forward by taking an honest inventory of our own intentions. I recently had a big fight with my partner and the old me would have threatened everything, blindly believing that my threat was my way of expressing my feelings, stating my bottom line, and saying “NO!” to inappropriate behavior. “I am being assertive!” I would proudly convince myself. In reality, my intention was to get him to stop doing what he was doing. My intention was to change him so that I could have what I wanted (and to remind him of how right I was and how wrong he was).

In the moment of intense emotions, and when ego steps in, our ability to connect with our true intentions (and feelings) is completely destroyed. Identifying our intentions means being excruciatingly honest with ourselves and others and that means putting all those hurt feelings aside and looking at the situation from a different perspective. Impossible? No. But definitely a challenge. And if it’s hard for us to identify our intentions right away, it most certainly is for others as well. That said, when you do get offended or hurt, don’t jump to conclusions about what the other person was trying to do or say.

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If we were to break it all down, basically when we end up bumping into our contrasting parts (i.e., any other living thing), the biggest problem is that we look at the other person’s behavior as either a complement to our goals or an interruption, and naturally end up taking it personally. If they did something that helped you, or made you feel good, you saw them in a positive light. If they did something that was unhelpful, disappointing, or set you back, you saw it in a negative light. But if they did something great, can you call them great? Then when they fail, are they no longer great? Keep in mind, even when people do awesome things for us, we still should not take it personally. That’s right, even when they treat you like a queen/king, unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that you are one.

But what if their action was personal? What if they intentionally did or said something to you that was meant to hurt you? Well, first of all, how do you know? Did they say directly to you that their intention was to hurt you, demean you, and cause you some kind of pain? If they knew that they were hurting you, would they do that?

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I remember a quote by Don Miguel Ruiz about taking things personally:

“Taking things personally is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that the whole world is all about ME.”

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Even if the other person’s action was an intentional attack upon you, it has absolutely nothing to do with you. While they have no right to try and change you, similarly, you have no right to change them. The only right you have is to assertively and kindly express your reality and leave it at that.

To put so much power onto another person by allowing their behavior to affect you, you have put all your trust into something outside of yourself. In a sense, you are saying, “my reality is determined by what you do or say to me.”

I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not easy to just let something go, especially when the person you are at odds with is someone you love very deeply. We don’t want to end the relationship. Nor do we want to continue feeling so sad from the result of our loved one’s actions. So what do you do when you aren’t in danger and you don’t necessarily want to end the relationship?

Boundaries

Boundaries.

Creating healthy boundaries is only something you can do and can actually be a gift to the other person (even if at first they don’t like it). When you make clear what you are willing and not willing to live with, you have given the other person the gift of clearly knowing what you need in order to maintain that relationship. Then they get to choose if they can live with that boundary. If they choose to deny those boundaries, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means they have chosen to end the relationship.

Boundaries aren’t demands that state what the other person can and cannot do, and your boundaries aren’t for them- They are for you.

Boundaries are like traffic lights that tell you when you need to stop, be cautious, or go forward. Others aren’t responsible for your boundaries. Only you are. Just like driving a car, you are the driver of your life. It’s your job to identify the boundaries you need and maintain them.

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After that, whatever happens is up to you. And that’s a good thing. Because it means that you are choosing all of this for yourself (freedom from, or acceptance of a given situation that was caused as a natural result of living around other living things). You are not a victim. You are not entitled to anything. Nor are you right and the other wrong. After establishing your boundaries, if you choose to run an obvious red light, the end result is on you.

In the end, all you can ethically and realistically do, if you have created and kept your healthy boundaries, and the other person still failed to acknowledge or respect them, is stop complaining and walk away from that person completely. It really is that simple.

Now That They’re Set, When to Bend on Your Personal Boundaries

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Boundaries are comforting. They can make us feel safe. But as much as we love comfort, there comes a time when we can and should bend on our personal boundaries. We often knowingly and unknowingly set boundaries with strangers to keep us safe from the unknown. As we get to know the person, however, we may feel more comfortable with them and feel we can trust the person with our physical and/or emotional safety. In those instances, we often ease up on the boundary we originally set.

There are two kinds of boundaries though: Firm/Unchanging and Flexible, and the meaning behind them is pretty self-explanatory: you don’t bend on the firm/unchanging ones (e.g., don’t get into the car if the driver is drunk no matter how much you like them or trust them), but you can be more flexible on the flexible ones (don’t share all the dirty details of your whole life story with a person you just met). Being flexible, however, doesn’t mean completely removing or letting up on the boundaries. It just means you are “flexible”. Try not to go from one extreme to another (It’s really easy to do this. I’ve caught myself doing it unknowingly far too many times…)

What makes a firm boundary different from a flexible one?

Distinguishing between the two boundaries is a personal decision only you can and must make, and if you’re not careful, you might mistake an unchanging boundary for a flexible one. As long as you can distinguish between the two, however, bending on the flexible boundaries (only when you’re ready!) becomes easier (even if it’s scary).

Just like there are two kinds of boundaries, there are two kinds of people: People who care about your well-being and people who do NOT care about your well-being. In determining the flexibility of your boundaries, it is important to determine what kind of person you are trying to be flexible with. If you are trying to be flexible with a person who doesn’t care about your well-being, you are setting yourself up for great pain and disappointment. If you are not sure if the person has your well-being in mind, a wise choice would be to remain from compromising that boundary yet. If you are confident the person DOES have your best interest at heart (because their actions- NOT THEIR WORDS- show it), then you can move forward on determining how to be more flexible (if that is what you want to do).

The rule of thumb in bending boundaries is to ask yourself if by bending, will you be jeopardizing your own integrity? Will it threaten your safety? Will you have your self-respect in tact?

Human relationships are pretty malleable. That means that they can change their form from one moment to the next. When determining the flexibility of your boundary, you need to determine if the person or relationship of which boundary is in question has changed to a point in which you feel confident about that person’s personal integrity, motivations, and character. In other words, do you trust this person enough to bend at this point? If not, that’s ok. That’s why the boundary is there in the first place- to protect your safety.

If you feel your relationship is at a point where you can ease up a bit (i.e., you feel a little more safe), you need to ask yourself WHY you feel that way. This is the most important piece of the puzzle. Really sit down and write it out if you have to. What has this person done to make you feel more safe? What has changed from then until now?

IMPORTANT: If you are bending on your boundary because you just “feel” like it’s safe now, think again. Trusting is important, but after a large betrayal, for example, trust must be earned back through changed behavior. It is not possible for even the healthiest and smartest of individuals to just “know” if another person is a good person or not. We simply don’t have the ability or capacity as human beings to make that decision and it is exactly because of that false belief that we got ourself into this mess (unhealthy relationships) in the first place. That doesn’t mean that we have to go around assuming everyone is evil and out to harm us (that would be going to an extreme). It simply means that personal boundaries are the foundation from which all healthy relationships form.

That said, if you are at a point where you feel you can ease up on, or be more flexible with certain boundaries, make the decision based on facts and actions – not a hunch. I don’t know how they do it, but the people that don’t have your well-being in mind tend to be people that are experts at false impressions and manipulation. In my experience, as bad as these people truly are, they are also experts at making the rest of the world believe they are really great people. Your boundaries are the key to your safety, always.

  • IMPORTANT: Just because a person may have some great traits doesn’t make them a great person. E.g., A really smart person doesn’t always equal a really kind person.

Boundaries are created to protect what is important to us. For me, honesty and accountability in a relationship is one of the most important keys to telling me if I can be more flexible or not.

I was in a relationship in which my partner was unable to be honest to me about both big things and little things. My partner was habitually unfaithful and I had no idea it was happening because he was so good at lying about where he was and what he was doing. For me, the determining factor of whether I could trust this person wasn’t if he told me the truth about his past affairs and swore he’d never do it again (Hello?! That better be a given!), but if he could continue to tell me the truth about small things. Small things like, “What time are you coming home?”, “Where did you go last night?”, and “How many beers did you get with the guys?” as well as reliability questions like if he says he is going to do something, does he actually do it? Does he make excuses for why he couldn’t? In that relationship, although he wasn’t acting out anymore, I could tell he was clearly still struggling to live an honest and transparent life. I knew I couldn’t count on him to be completely honest so I had to maintain several of my personal boundaries until I felt we were at a place I could trust his honesty.

Specifically, if a person is continuing to violate your boundaries or trust, unfortunately that means that he/she doesn’t respect you or your boundaries. Ending that relationship is usually the best way to go. If someone disregards small boundaries, they will disregard the bigger ones and the disregard will only get worse. If the person has identified your boundaries (because you made them clear and adequately maintained them) and was able to respect them completely, you now know you can be more flexible on certain flexible boundaries (and because relationships are always changing, you have the right to reinforce the previous boundaries if the person has slipped and violated them again or has proven untrustworthy). If, for this specific person, he/she continuously violates this boundary, then for this specific person, this specific boundary now becomes a PERMANENT boundary. This is why the boundaries are so important and why they serve as a key to both your sanity, health, and happiness. 

Healthy Boundaries – The Key to a Healthy & Happy Life

healthy boundariesWe often confuse setting boundaries with shutting people out or being selfish. In fact, more often than not, when you enforce boundaries with people who are not use to having boundaries, it is likely they will react negatively and call you controlling, a b*tch, and other harsh accusatory names. Don’t bend! Why? Because setting healthy boundaries is quite the opposite of what many people believe and can save you a lifetime of drama once you understand the concept.

Setting healthy boundaries means creating limits to protect your integrity, your energy, home, money, health, children, priorities, your relationships, and more. Healthy boundaries, however, is NOT controlling someone or making rules for others to live by.

Creating healthy boundaries do not push people away or control other’s behavior. Quite the opposite of what is believed, creating healthy boundaries for yourself promotes healthy relationships because there is a clear line of who you are and what you stand for (providing true visibility for those who wish to respect you), and allows yourself to give fully from a genuine and healthy place.

So what are some types of healthy boundaries? To start, here are a few that I’ve found helpful to remember when dealing with people (work, romance, friends, family, etc.):

* I will not be involved with a person whose words and actions don’t align.

* I will not be in a relationship with a deceitful person.

*I will not give up my passions (reading, writing, yoga, meditation) for anyone.

* I will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind to others or self.

Setting healthy boundaries is actually pretty easy. It’s enforcing them that is hard. We usually know what we like and don’t like (what we allow and what we will not allow). But when it comes to actually following through on them…. we get stuck.

In short: Don’t make boundaries you can’t follow through on. But if they are important boundaries that your personal mental and physical health require, keep the boundary and fight for the inner strength to follow through on creating and maintaining your boundaries. Your boundaries are key to emotional/physical safety, healthy relationships, and a happy life.

How A Beat Up 1987 Toyota Camry Changed My Life

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At one of the largest turning points in my life (my 2nd year of undergrad in New York) I was ready to throw in the towel and give up on life. I was flunking all my classes. I walked in on my boyfriend of 4 years sleeping with another woman. I had two jobs and still, my bank account was nearing zero. I was living off of canned tuna and rice. I was living in a basement and still couldn’t afford rent and was being evicted.

“Why try anymore? I’ve done so much already and nothing happened. It’s too much work, and I don’t know if my efforts will ever pay off. What if I’m destined to live this life? Why not just accept it?” I told myself.

Here I was, a small town girl from Idaho, living in New York trying to make something of myself, but no matter how hard I tried, I kept failing. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t good enough. It’s not fair! Why does everyone else have it so easy and I have to struggle? No one loves me. No one will ever love me. I’ll always be a failure. I’ll never find happiness… “I quit! This is hopeless!” I told myself.

On what I decided was my last week of class, my professor noticed my glum attitude and asked me to dinner. That night changed my life. We talked about why I was sad, what I was so disappointed in, and why I was blaming my life and problems on external things like other people, my childhood, and “bad luck” or “destiny”. She told me:

“Everything that you have done in the past, and everything you are doing right now, and everything that you will do in the future is because YOU chose to do it. Everything that you didn’t do in the past, and everything you aren’t doing right now, and everything you don’t do in the future is because YOU chose not to do it.”

I fought back, “No! I don’t have a choice in this! I tried! I did my best! It didn’t work! It’s hopeless now….I’m not at fault! This is just life. I’m being realistic!”

She repeated what she told me, again, and again, and again, until it finally sunk in. “THIS IS YOUR LIFE, AND ALL OF IT IS YOUR CHOICE. AND YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR CHOICES AT ANY MOMENT…”

Wait… what? I can change my choices at any moment? At each and every moment in my life, I can change what I chose to do or not do…

13 years have passed since that day. The greatest lesson of my life. Sometimes I still want to externalize my disappointments. But I’m constantly reminded of her words. I learned that honestly owning up to your choices (good or bad) takes a lot of courage. I learned that if one choice didn’t put me where I wanted to be, I had to make a different choice.

So ask yourself: “Do I like where I am right now in life?” If not, “What did I do to get myself into this situation?”

Now ask yourself: “What can I choose to do now to change my situation?”

The good news is, no matter what choice you make, IT’S ALL YOURS!

The bad news is, that no matter what choice you make, the consequences are all yours too. So choose wisely…

But if you really want it, you do what it takes. Yes, the first few steps are the darkest and scariest, and it might mean leaving New York with your tail between your legs, feeling like a failure while you get into your broken down 1987 Toyota Camry in the middle of summer with no radio and no air conditioner, with one door hanging off it’s hinges, and driving across the country to move back in with your parents and starting all over until you get back on your feet… (or not! That’s just what it took for me.) The point is, no one is to blame for your life, and changing it is scary because we are essentially stepping into the unknown- out of our comfort zone – that place where, ironically, all the juiciest, yummiest, priceless payoff is waiting. Yup… A good life takes effort, work, and time.

I learned that no magic fairy dust or princess wand was going to bring bliss to me on a silver plate… (Yeah, I think I may have honestly hoped it would at that time. And why not? I deserved it! I was a good person. I had good intentions. I was a hard worker. I was nice…I thought…)

What I learned was that no one on this Earth owed me anything. What I learned was that those first steps, however scary, ultimately empowered me and served as a reminder that I AM THE MASTER OF MY LIFE. If it sucks, it’s because I let it suck.

This life is all yours. If you don’t like it, or notice you keep seeing the same disappointments, CHANGE something you are doing in your life! But your life is yours, and only yours, for the taking. It’s your birthright. Own it. Your ONE life is here for you now.

“Negative and Positive Energy” – WTF does it mean?

The Super Easy & Simplified Explanation of “Energy” and How You Have The Power To Change It

I was 29 when I first heard about “energy” and had no clue what it meant. My family-friend who had always inspired me (and ended up being my “spiritual adviser” (a.k.a. the one who kept me real when things got bad in life) was telling me about personal responsibility, and how if I focus on how I perceive the bad stuff that is happening to me as bad stuff, it feels worse (both physically and emotionally) than if I were to find the “blessing” in it. This was my first exposure to this kind of thinking and the concept is still a little vague to me. One thing for sure though, is I had realized I had spent 29 years of my life blaming others for disappointing me and hurting me and needlessly suffering for 29 years. And this was my first experience with “energy”, which at first sounds like a bunch of spiritual mumbo-jumbo, but is in fact, a simple truth to the basic human psychology. I believe that if you can master this, you will have ultimately mastered your mind.

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So what is “energy”?
The complicated version: Energy is basically anything and everything and it can move to anywhere and anyone at anytime from anyone and anywhere at anytime. It is from an infinite source in which no one can take too much and there not be enough for someone else. It can be positive energy, negative energy, or the “blah” kind of energy, and you can take as much or as little as you want, whenever you want. You can share it with billions of people and still have your share, if not more.

The simple version: The feeling and/or emotion you have at any moment in time. If you want to feel good, you can. If you want to feel bad, you can. And if you want to feel blah, you can. Neither kind of energy is valued as “good” or “bad”. It’s just energy, and it can be helpful or detrimental, depending on how you use it because the catch is… it’s contagious… For example, if you saw a horrible vicious attack on an innocent victim and you felt enraged, it’s not necessarily “bad” energy, because it’s a “negative” event, nor is “rage” a negative feeling. That rage could be just what you need to stand up for justice and protect that person (or even inspire others to stand up with you in solidarity- maybe even start a movement!). Similarly, let’s say you had a burst of “joy” seeing someone you didn’t like suffering a little (admit it, we all have that feeling). It’s a “nice” feeling (oooooh, that lovely feeling of revenge…), but that “nice” feeling isn’t necessarily positive enough to make the world (or you) a better place or person. And sometimes we don’t feel anything, and that’s fine. Not everything, nor every moment needs you to feel something or respond to right away, or ever.

So as you can see, the skillful recognition, understanding, and management of how and when we use these energies is ultimately what makes the difference in creating the life that makes us happy, successful, fulfilled, and productive.

Now for my personal experience…(What would a blog be without the personal touch?)

A few months ago, I learned of the ultimate betrayal towards me. My heart was crushed. My world came crumbling down on my physically and emotionally. I didn’t know what to do or even how to feel. It was like negative energy and blah energy at the same time. I wanted to scream, and escape, while at the same time, I didn’t know if I was sad, mad, or simply cutting off all of my emotions just because they were too much for me to handle at the time. Even though it sounded like the easiest way around the pain, ending my life wasn’t an option. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t think, or hear, or even breathe normally. And I let that stay that way for quite a while (3 weeks or so). It was a dark, cold, lonely moment for me, and I tried in every way I knew how to “fix” myself from feeling so horribly. I did lots of crazy stuff, like dousing myself in Essential Oils, exercise, reading the Bible, spiritual passages, writing, watching motivational videos, empowerment videos, listened to empowering music, sleeping, breaking stuff… yelling, crying, etc.), and no matter what I did I couldn’t escape from it. So I embraced it.

I decided I would feel every bit of it. All the sadness, all the feelings of betrayal, all the pain, all the tightness in the chest, the pounding heart, the crushed soul, the shock, disbelief, the doubt, curiosity, the lump in the throat. I would intentionally take it all in and embrace it. “THIS is what everyone feels when they experience this kind of stuff,” I told myself. “It’s normal, and although it isn’t anything I would wish on anyone, I will walk through this fire with my head high, brave, fearless, and ultimately, a better person.”

Motorcycle Details

Slowly, each feeling dissipated. Anger was the first to leave. Fear was next. Sadness is on the recession but still there. And that’s fine. For now. Slowly, I started noticing that all the things that made me happy were still there (I had just forgotten about them because I was so focused on the bad stuff). My favorite green rolling hills covered in yellow madia flowers and grazing horses were always right there, every day, on my commute to work. My son was always there, ready to read a book and talk a little before bed. My puppies were always there, wagging their tail and following me around the house, full of happiness for just being next to me. My heart was beating. And while my health has now been compromised, I’m alive and still full of every opportunity I’ve ever had before in life. And… my friends were still there, ready to listen to anything and help me through it. I wasn’t alone, never was, and never will be.

It isn’t that optimist crap, or me pretending that the problem isn’t there. This is me harnessing the power of pulling positive energy from the infinite abundant source of “positive energy” to replace the “negative energy” that was clouding my personal world and (what felt like) was sucking me of my soul and devouring me alive.

You see, the more I remembered and looked for those things that brought me happiness (or good feelings), the less “bad” I felt about what had happened. And the less bad I felt, and more genuinely “happy” I felt about other areas in my life, the more empowered I was, the more courage I had to move forward. My appetite slowly came back. My smile would show up every now and then. And eventually, I remembered how to laugh again and be silly. I was able to look at the person who had caused the pain and not feel anger. I accepted I had no control over what had happened. It happened…. More importantly, I realized that happened didn’t happen TO me. It was simply, an experience, that invoked a roller coaster of emotions, and thus many energies as well. It doesn’t make it right what happened. No, it was totally wrong. It was horrible, and appropriate steps have been taken to “right the wrong”.

But the point is, bad stuff happens to everyone, anywhere, all the time and it sucks. It truly, deeply sucks really, really bad. But it doesn’t have to suck forever, and you will feel better. When you’re ready. And the feelings and emotions that you are experiencing because of all that crappy stuff is, unfortunately, yours and yours alone. You gotta take that responsibility for it…even though (I know!) we’d rather give that job to someone else).

Maybe not the greatest example, but that, in a nutshell, is negative and positive energy.

Walking the Talk

walk the talk
One of his last words to me was, “You talk about loving kindness, but do you really think you apply that in our relationship?”

The thought sat with me for a long time… I didn’t want to admit it.. “No…I didn’t”

In a moment of intense emotions, I said things I now regret. Things I knew would hurt him most. I told him I questioned his sanity. I told him he was insecure and reactive. I gave him the silent treatment for a whole day. And later, I did what I normally do to cope with all this inner turmoil and yuckiness, which is to write about my feelings, knowing full-well that he hates when I publicly write about my personal life.

At the moment I felt justified. This is how I cope. And telling him how I felt about him at the moment was true. He let me down, and I felt he MUST be aware of how I felt. I had to “show” him how hurt I was.

But as I showed him how I was hurting, I was simultaneously hurting him as well. It was like exchanging my pain for his pain. And then I realized that in doing so, I most certainly was not thinking at all about loving kindness. I was not thinking about the feelings of this man I loved.

And the more intense our argument became, the more we spat unloving, condescending, disrespectful words back and forth at each other. We were mean and cold. Yes, two people who genuinely loved each other so very much, did this to one another.

I began to realize, maybe I was justified to say what I said… But did I have to? Was it necessary? Was it helpful? And maybe he was justified to say what he said too. But he didn’t have to. And we both know it is not helpful or necessary. What are we getting out of this verbal slammage? What are we trying to prove?

I don’t think we got anything out of it. But I’ll tell you what we didn’t get though. We didn’t get closer. We didn’t feel very loving. We didn’t feel loved. We didn’t feel cared for, listened to, respected, and we most certainly did not feel very forgiving. In our exchange of verbal aggression, what we walked away with was animosity, anger, resentment, and shame… And what we lost? The very thing we were fighting for… Loving each other.

As I sat there reading his text asking if I really applied all that mumbo-jumbo about loving kindness, and realized that I actually don’t, I felt like I had just walked flat into a mirror face first. It was true… I was not walking my talk. In fact, every time I was presented with the opportunity, I never did… It was always the same pattern of behavior. Silent treatment and blaming the other person. It wasn’t a coping mechanism. It was a defense mechanism. Defending myself from having to deal with that ugly unloving reactive part of me. Regardless of who is at fault, when someone we love does something “unloving” to us, naturally, our first thought is that they don’t really love us. We feel betrayed. We begin to doubt them. We must remember that those feelings go both ways.

You can carry that anger and resentment, and assume that they do not love you. After all, their behavior did absolutely nothing to prove their love to you. Yes, you can stand your ground and demand an apology before (and IF) you forgive them. You can certainly “teach them a lesson” and make them feel bad until you yourself feel just a little bit better…

Or you can understand that they too, are hurting- hurting in some way far deeper than you can or will ever understand, and perhaps they do not know how to lovingly express that fear, anger, resentment, or insecurity… JUST LIKE YOU!

You see, even when there are walls between you, you still are so much alike. You are still so similar. It’s that part that makes us human. We all come with our own stories, and regardless of who the “bad guy is” the way we deal with our disappointments really has nothing to do with the other person, but something deep inside of ourselves.

The thing is, we never truly know what the other person is going through, because, simply, we aren’t them. We are all walking our own path. We feel things differently, we experience things differently, and we process things differently. After remembering this, it occurred to me that I actually was walking my talk. Granted, I wast doing a HORRIBLE job of it, but I had realized that through every failed love, every mistake I’ve made both personally and professionally, I was opening myself up more and more, growing more and more, and changing for the better.

In all my interactions, I had always tried my best to be loving, kind, and compassionate. And yes, in many (*cough* ALL) of them, I failed miserably. But it was the opening and expansion through these mistakes that left my footprints, proving that, indeed, I was walking my talk- and it was precisely that hurt, and pain, and all those grand failures that served as an opportunity to try my “talk” out through real life experiences. And that’s just how it is. We depend on others as mirrors. We depend on others to really learn and come in to know love.

Maybe it’s not about learning greatness and then applying it, but learning greatness, preparing yourself to use it, and then jump into that unknown, hoping and praying (fingers and toes, and eyes crossed!) that we can successfully apply what we’ve learned when the time comes. And at that same time, when other people let us down, disappoint us, or offend us, we can remember too, that they are also taking that scary, scary leap of faith. They too, are taking with them all that they know and are also given daily opportunities to make a choice- to love or not to love. Just like you, they will also experience success. They will also experience failure.

So you see, walking the talk isn’t about doing everything right. It’s about moving forward, continuing to live, and open yourself up to all the disappointments and failures of both yourself and others.

My love, I’m truly sorry.

Your Life Isn’t, and Has Never Been, About You…

Profound wisdom from an author of one of my favorite books, “Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up” by Zoketsu Norman Fischer. He recently spoke at a Stanford Baccalaureate explaining why your life is not and has never been about you…

“A moment is a moment. As with all other times in life, there are highs and there are lows. Today you may be feeling high, and that is beautiful. Time passes though, and you forget about that moment. But right now, you have the skills, connections, and obligations to do great things. And this means not only great things for yourselves-  you are expected to do great things for others and for the world. So let’s be honest: the future really is in the youth. And yet the truth is it is not always going to be easy to survive your promising life, anywhere in the world. There is so much competition, and anxiety about that competition, that it is possible that success won’t come easy, and it’s also possible that success won’t come at all. Or maybe it will come in abundance, but you don’t find it as meaningful as you thought it would be. Or, maybe success comes and you find it satisfying but only at first when it is still bright and shiny and exciting, and later at the state and with the implications of the successful life you have lived, it will wear you down and you will find yourself tired and confused.

It could be that as time goes on from this day, some of your personal relationships don’t work out the way you hoped they would. It’s possible that your sense of self doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It’s possible that there will be disappointments, setbacks- some acknowledged and some buried deep within and not acknowledged. In short, it is very possible that from this day forth there is some pain awaiting you: bad love affairs, betrayals, losses, disillusions. Likely, you are going to have some seriously shaky moments. Maybe as you move through the decades it will become increasingly difficult to maintain the idealism and hopefulness that you have right now. It could be that one day you wake up and you find yourself wondering what have I been doing all this time? Who have I become?

You’ll keep busy. You’ll have a lot of things to do. And if there are such feelings, you’ll try your best not to notice them. If there is any despair, disappointment, discouragement, or boredom that you’re feeling years from today, you’ll try not to notice and I bet you’ll be able to do that- to not notice it…

I should say something encouraging.. and I do intend to do that! But, I figured I would be more convincing if I were also pretty realistic and it is realistic to say that your lives from now on will not be that easy. It is realistic to say that the skills you will need to survive may be more than, or other than, the skills that you have so far in your lives. Because the truth is that it takes a great deal of fortitude and strength to sustain a worthwhile, happy, human life over time in this actual world that we live in.
LIFE
So here comes the uplifting part:

Your life isn’t and has never been about you…
It isn’t, and it has never been about what you accomplish, how successful you are (or are not), how much money you make, what sort of position you ascend to, or even about your family, your associations, your various communities, or even about how much good you do for others in the world.

Your life, like mine, and like everyone elses, has really only ever been about one thing: LOVE.

Who are you, actually? And where did you come from? Why were you born into this life? You didn’t ask for it. When this short human journey is over, where do you go next, and why and how does any of this exist? What is the point of it all? Not even your Nobel-prize winning professors know the answers to these questions- these inevitable and unavoidable questions. The only thing we know is that we are here for a while and then we are gone, and that WHILE WE ARE HERE, WE ARE HERE TOGETHER, Which is why the only thing that completely makes sense, the only thing that is completely real is LOVE.

This is not a mystery and this is not news or some great discovery. Everyone actually knows this even though we forget about it. Love is always available to you wherever you look and when you dedicate yourself to love- when you dedicate yourself to be kind to everyone you meet, not just the people on your side, AND not just the people you like and approve of, but EVERY human and EVERY non-human being, then you’re going to be ok.

In your life, whatever it brings, even if it brings a lot of difficulty and tragedy, your life will be a beautiful life. I hope that you find this uplifting…

But there’s more… HOW do you love? What does this mean? How do you make your love real so it’s not just a pretty idea? This does not happen by itself. It takes attention, commitment, and effort over time. It doesn’t come from wishing or believing or assuming. You’re gonna have to figure out how NOT to get distracted by your personal problems, by your success (or lack of success), by your needs, desires, suffering, various interests, and ALWAYS keep your eye on the ball of love, even as you inevitably juggle all the rest of it. So you have to commit yourself to love and you have to have a way- a path or a practice for cultivating love and strengthening it throughout your lifetime no matter what happens, because love is not a feeling, it is an overarching attitude and spirit. And it’s a daily activity.

When you go about this practice of cultivating love, whatever practice you choose, the most important characteristic of this practice is that it must be useless- absolutely useless. In other words, it has to be an activity that has no practical effect other than to connect you to your heart and to your highest and most mysterious purpose- a purpose that is literally unknown because it references the unanswerable questions I mentioned a moment ago.

We’ve been doing so many good things for so many good reasons. Lots of good things for our physical health, psychological health, emotional health, family life, future success, economic life, for your community, for your world… but the practice of love that you choose must be a practice that is useless. It doesn’t do anything but to touch our lives beyond all concerns. For example, you could practice gratitude. Have you ever woke up in the morning and just been grateful for another day?

Another practice might be the practice of giving. Giving doesn’t have to be money or gods. Giving can be a daily intention of just a kind word or smile. Or you could practice kind speech on all occasions even difficult ones – committing yourself to speak as much as you can in kindness, and with inclusion of others and their needs, hopes, and dreams – not just speaking from your own side.

Or you can practice beneficial action – committing yourself to intentionally acting with a spirit of benefiting someone else (For example, you could wipe the counters after you’ve used a public restroom, or you could pick up and throw away someone’s garbage in the park) .

Or you could practice identity action, recognizing that when you do anything you are not, and cannot do it alone by your own power. You’ve never done anything alone and by your own power because inevitably whatever you do involves others, and the whole world involves others in a world of support. For example, you cannot breathe air on this Earth without the trees producing oxygen.

Or you could practice compassion – which is going toward, rather than turning away from, the suffering of others and your own suffering. We all want to avoid pain so much that what we do in our lives is focused on avoiding pain- making pain disappear. But oftentimes we cannot make pain disappear- so can you go toward it rather than run away? Can you become softened or brought to wisdom by the unavoidable pain found in others or yourself?

All of these practices share one thing: they come from love. They encourage love. They produce more love. And when you do them over time, little by little it conditions your heart and you discover that you are living in a world full of love, and for your life and for our lives collectively in the times to come, of all the things we need the most, we are going to need much more love. LOTS OF LOVE.

In good times, love is lovely, and in hard times, love is absolutely necessary. Love turns tragedy into opportunity. It turns something unwanted and difficult into a chance to drive love deeper-  to make it wiser fuller more glorious and more resilient.

Fenton Johnson said, “One can and should lay great plans, but life has its own ebb and flow and our first duty is to be present to that ebb and flow. We must realize that failure and success are social conceptions that can be useful but that in their conventional definitions have little to do with what really matters, which is to study and practice virtue.”

Timothy Kelly said, “How one lives one’s life is the only true measure of the validity of one’s search.”

So, please, do seriously think about it. Not in a grim way, but with a certain amount of joy and lightness. It is amazing to be alive. Amazing. Unlikely. What is really worthwhile and what is just a distraction, no matter how much another person tells you what is and what isn’t. Only one person can do that, and that is you.

I’m happy for the life you’ve had so far, and I’m congratulating you and hoping for your life a head, a life of challenge and difficulty and passion. What an opportunity.

Watch here if you want to hear it for yourself! (Starts at 29:00 and ends at 57:30).